Hello blog readers,
As many of you may already know, addiction, love, loss, and change seem to travel closely with one another. I know that many of you former Ranchers, maybe even new people just reading this blog, will be saddened to hear that Vern, my black Labrador Retriever, passed away on November 8th of this year. Did he die of natural causes? No. I had to “help him” to “pass on” which can feel like an oxymoron. There are lots of those in recovery, as you have already discovered, or will.
Vern was still a puppy when I entered treatment in 2004. I did not want a dog at that time in my life when my wife Michele informed me that she was planning to get one. She said it was for protection. In addition, I think she intuitively knew that the dog, Vern, would force me to do things – to bond, to care, to force me to get outside of myself…something very challenging to do toward the end of my addiction. I did not want a dog…I did not want to let anyone or anything into the dark little world in which I was living. I knew that I had nothing to give. Addiction had exhausted all internal resources.
Ignoring my weak protests, Michele went and got Vern anyway. I have always found the concept of “love at first sight” to be challenging. Attraction? Absolutely. But love? And yet, this was that. All the “things” – the resentments, the fears, even the hatred that I had at that time toward life, toward self, toward others, toward society, coming from the darkness in me that tattooed my vision. Those things, I was unable to project upon Vern. Vern offered unconditional love & acceptance. Vern was not trying to expose my weaknesses. Vern helped to bring out what good was left in me. Vern softened my heart.
My addiction years during Vern’s life span were few, the recovery part, much longer. Vern was a huge part of Top of the World Ranch. Many clients over the years told me about the positive impact that Vern had on them. How he went hiking with them, that he spent the day with them individually while they were on silent retreats. Vern was a great silent partner, a very good listener. A common aspect of persons that struggle with addiction is the feeling of being judged. Vern clearly demonstrated pure joy and acceptance. Vern was with YOU. Living in the moment. Living that moment in the present and grateful to do so. For a mute, Vern offered many lessons that I think most of us will find helpful on our journey.
Vern lived a long life for a black Lab. From a puppy to a very old dog in a decade and a half… God, I loved that dog….and I do not want to stop missing him. And yet in this short time period of just under a month, I feel the pangs of loss subsiding, the sock to the gut not as forceful when I think of him. It seems like an injustice.
And yet it seems like life. We change. Life changes. Circumstances change. People come and go and so do dogs. I guess this is all part of the journey. Maybe Vern had one more lesson to impart at the end.
Founder of Top of the World Ranch